BATON ROUGE, La. (BP)–In a first for any state, Louisiana has adopted an academic freedom law giving teachers greater protection and freedom in teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution, something supporters of academic freedom in science call a significant step forward.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act after it unanimously passed the state Senate 36-0 and was approved by the House by a vote of 94-3. The law allows “open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied, including but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” A statement on Jindal’s website June 26 said he had signed it along with dozens of other bills.
Robert Crowther, a spokesman for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, cited two reasons the law is needed.
“First, around the country, science teachers are being harassed, intimidated and sometimes fired for trying to present scientific evidence critical of Darwinian theory along with the evidence that supports it,” Crowther wrote on Discovery’s science and culture blog June 27.
“Second, many school administrators and teachers are fearful or confused about what is legally allowed when teaching about controversial scientific issues like evolution. The Louisiana Science Education Act clarifies what teachers may be allowed to do,” Crowther wrote.
Under the new law, teachers still are required to teach according to state and local science standards, but now they are permitted to present additional scientific evidence relating to topics already included in the approved curriculum. Supplemental materials cannot promote any particular religion, and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will have the power to prohibit materials they deem inappropriate, according to the law.
The education act states that it should “not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”
This year, at least six states have considered academic freedom legislation designed to protect teachers who teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory, but Louisiana is the first to pass such a law.
Though he gained support from conservatives, Jindal attracted criticism from some scientists, editorial writers and even his college genetics professors, The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans said. Jindal graduated from Brown University with a degree in biology and has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Sen. John McCain in the race for president.
Among the criticism, The New York Times called the education bill “Trojan horse legislation” that would lead to teaching biblical creationism. Others, such as the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union, have threatened litigation, The Times-Picayune said.
John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, said some critics misunderstand the legislation as a gateway to teaching Intelligent Design, but the think tank has said the language of the law does not even allow for ID to be taught because it is currently not in the Louisiana state science standards.
“This bill is not a license to propagandize against something they don’t like in science,” West said of teachers, according to The Times-Picayune. “Someone who uses materials to inject religion into the classroom is not only violating the Constitution, they are violating the bill.”
Compiled by Erin Roach, staff writer for Baptist Press.